CSB Board Declares OSHA Response to Reactives Regulation Recommendation "Unacceptable"

February 5, 2004

For more information, go to: CSB-OSHA Interagency Correspondence on Reactives Recommendations

Washington, DC, Feb. 5, 2004--The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) has formally notified the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that it finds "unacceptable" OSHA's response to CSB recommendations to broaden the regulation of reactive chemicals in the workplace and to compile data on reactive chemical accidents.

In a letter to John Henshaw, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt said the Board voted unanimously on Feb. 2, 2004, to designate OSHA's response as "Open - Unacceptable Response." By designating the recommendations "open," the Board indicated it will continue to seek action from OSHA on the requested actions. Chairman Merritt said the Board was "disappointed" that OSHA had given no indication when it might make a decision on moving forward to extend coverage of reactives.

Specifically, the CSB asked OSHA to amend what is called the Process Safety Management Standard (PSM) to achieve more comprehensive control of reactive hazards that have caused numerous catastrophic incidents and killed scores of workers over the past two decades.

In the letter to Secretary Henshaw, Chairman Merritt wrote, "While the Board commends OSHA on increased outreach efforts designed 'to heighten awareness of hazards associated with reactivity,' Board members continue to believe that the evidence compiled by the CSBÃ??s investigation strongly indicates that a revision of the standard is necessary."

The Board voted in Oct. 2002 to make the recommendation to OSHA, which is required by law to formally respond to the CSB. The recommendation followed the release of a two-year CSB hazard investigation entitled "Improving Reactive Chemical Management." The study called reactive chemical accidents a "significant chemical safety problem" that are responsible for continuing deaths, injuries and environmental property damage nationwide. The study focused on 167 serious accidents over 20 years, which caused 108 fatalities and hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage.

Reactive hazards exist when a single chemical or a mixture has the potential to undergo a violent, uncontrolled reaction when improperly processed or combined. The chemical reactions can release large quantities of heat, energy and gases, causing fires, explosions or toxic emissions. Reactive chemicals and mixtures often appear harmless until exposed to specific processing or storage conditions, such as elevated temperature.

The CSB also categorized OSHA's refusal to develop a reactive incident database as "unacceptable." Chairman Merritt wrote, "The Board would like to clarify that the recommendation only asks OSHA to track data from incidents that OSHA investigates or requires to be investigated under current OSHA regulations."

The CSB Chairman expressed hope the recommendations would ultimately be adopted. She wrote, "The Board's goal is that all our recommendations be acceptably implemented. We would like to work with you in moving toward an acceptable outcome and we will reconsider the status of these recommendations upon timely follow-up responses."

Since 1998, the CSB has investigated a number of significant reactive chemical incidents that caused deaths, injuries and major property loss. These include the 1998 runaway chemical reaction and explosion at Morton International in Paterson, NJ, which injured nine workers and led to CSB's special investigation on reactive hazards. Among the others were: Kaltech Industries in New York City, First Chemical in Pascagoula, MS, Environmental Enterprises in Cincinnati, OH, Georgia Pacific in Pennington, AL, Catalyst Systems in Gnadenhutten, OH, BP Amoco in Augusta, GA, Technic Inc. in Cranston, RI, Avery Dennison in Mill Hall, PA, Concept Sciences in Allentown, PA, Condea Vista in Baltimore, MD, and Isotec in Miamisburg, OH. (Information on these incidents is available at www.CSB.gov.

The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of such events, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety management systems. Typically, the investigations involve extensive witness interviews, examination of physical evidence, and chemical and forensic testing. The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. The Board designates formal responses to its recommendations as acceptable or unacceptable, open or closed. Further information about the CSB is available from www.csb.gov.

For more information, contact Daniel Horowitz, 202-261-7613 / 202-441-6074 (cell) or Sandy Gilmour Communications, 202-261-7614 / 202-251-5496 (cell).


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